Central America – part 2, Guatemala and Belize

I forgot to mention in part 1, Belize is Anjali’s 50th country and Ariana’s 25th!!! The drive to the Camino Real hotel in Guatemala was just 1.5 hours and the immigration out of Belize and into Guatemala was annoying (since you had to do paperwork twice 100m from each other) but generally seamless. We had gotten papers for the car at the time of rental which made things easy. We arrived at our resort just in time for lunch, and were delighted to see the beautiful green-blue lake adjoining the resort. After some local Guatemalan shrimp and rice, we all jumped into the pool and hot tub. We also took a stroll to the Peten lake waterfront where the water was crystal clear and warm. The sunset was absolutely stunning over the lake. The kids were tired and had a late nap, and we had an overall relaxing evening ending with some time for me to read a book and drink some wine on the balcony.

Next morning we headed out to Tikal, the world famous 2000 year old Mayan ruins and the primary purpose of our trip to Guatemala. A quick 45 mins drive north from the resort, we arrived at the entrance of Tikal. It’s a massive area in the middle of the rainforest scattered with Mayan temples, and it reminded us a lot of our recent experience at the magnificent Angkor Wat. We walked what felt like a really long time through the forest to the first pyramid and ruins. A few 100m later, we reached the Gran Plaza – a breathtaking site with the most famous ruins and temples on each side. On one side stood the super famous Temple I or the Jaguar temple. Opposite stood Temple II that Ayaan and I climbed to get an amazing view of the on plaza. And the north and central Acropolis on the other sides, that all of us enjoyed climbing and exploring. Tikal is not super kid friendly with its climbs and long walks, but it worked out well for us since we didn’t have FOMO to see every single temple. Also luckily we got a ride back to the entrance. Tikal was a great experience, much like visiting Angkor Wat or Petra, though not as magical.

That evening we went down to the lake to feed the fish and turtles. Kids loved it as the fish jumped to get the food and a turtle came by to fill his tummy. We ventured to the island town of Flores, 45 mins away for dinner. Flores is a quaint, colorful, tiny island town in the middle of the lake. We really enjoyed our dinner overlooking the decorated boats on the lake and capped it off with ice cream for the kids.

Next morning was a travel day as we drove across the border back to Belize (crossing was just 15 mins), returned the car at Belize City, took the Belize express ferry to San Pedro (made famous by Madonna’s La Isla Bonita) and finally a smaller boat to our hotel called Portofino. We learned that Belize had just 340,000 people, a former British Colony 37 years old and is facing a referendum to remain independent or join Guatemala. What is super unique about Belize is that it’s a mix between being in Central America and the Caribbean. Portofino at Ambergris Caye is a boutique hotel with just 17 rooms and a private beach. It was a very different experience than our other beach stays, very relaxing with the pool, bar and beach right outside our room. On a different note, I find it amazing how the kids adapt to not having toys. For example Ayaan is obsessed with how they clean and fill the pool with a pipe at this resort.

We spent our last 3 days of our travels in our sabbatical relaxing at the beach (slightly disappointing with weeds although water is warm and a lovely color), the pool and spending our time with the kids. Ayaan and Ariana were fascinated that they cut the coconut from the tree, cut them and served them absolutely fresh. The food and cocktails were fantastic with freshly caught seafood and local rum. We ventured out to the town of San Pedro one of the evenings, walked around the tiny town and had some ceviche with local rum. We we’re so lucky to catch a double rainbow with Ariana wearing her “Chasing Rainbows” tee. The weather got really nice (“only perfect” as Ariana says), sunny and warm with a slight breeze. On our last day we went out to snorkel at Mexico Rock, a part of the Holchan preserve. Belize has the 2nd biggest barrier reef in the world after Australia. The snorkeling was one of the best we’ve done anywhere comparable to the Red Sea and Zanzibar. Our guide was fantastic and we saw eagle rays, barracudas, lobsters, sting rays, pink conch, rainbow fish, puffer fish etc. The kids were well behaved and enjoyed seeing the fish come up to the boat as we fed them. Overall an amazing way to end our travels in our sabbatical as we head back to SF via Houston tomorrow! Again super thankful for Ayaan and Ariana and grateful that we got to spend all this time with them.

Ireland – part 3, Galway & Dublin

After a sumptuous breakfast of waffles, freshly baked croissants, and smoked salmon, we set out for Connomarra National Park, a 2.5 hour drive from Corrofin. As we approached the area, our eyes were greeted by stunning lakes, and lush green mountains with waterfalls streaming down. Our first stop in the park was for lunch at the visitor center, after which Ariana played with her grandparents in the park while Ayaan joined Gaurav and I for another hike. As we walked up the mountain, we could see a spectacular view of the valley and lakes below. After the hike, we drove to the beautiful Kylemore abbey which was set against the backdrop of a lake. After strolling the grounds, we drove to Galway and checked in to our apartment. Gaurav brought dinner for the kids and grandparents, and then we enjoyed a date night out! Our first stop was at Cava Bodega where we enjoyed pinxtos and tapas with a carafe of Rioja. Next we headed to the popular pub, Tig Cioli where we each enjoyed a strong Irish Coffee. We learned that Tig Cioli was the first pub that ever opened in Galway and they’d listed the price of a pint for nearly every year since 1900! I’ve begun to really appreciate the pub culture in Ireland because it is extremely kid friendly with baby changing tables, kid menus and live music to drown out any tantrums :). The pubs have become what I look forward to for each meal, and possibly what I’ll miss the most about Ireland! This time though, we were kid free and we decided to make the most of the night. Our next stop was Tich Neachtain where we were able to hustle our way into a fantastic seat right by the live band. We started off with a black Jameson reserve which was fantastic and then proceeded to have several pints of Guinness and whisky flights interspersed with shots of Jameson. We stumbled home and woke up to a heavy hangover the next morning.

It was dada’s birthday so after breakfast at home, everyone enjoyed a treat of the famous Murphy’s ice cream. We walked to Eyre Square and then strolled the medieval streets of Galway taking in the live music at nearly every corner. We made our way to the Galway cathedral which was beautiful. Finally we enjoyed lunch at a pub near our home and then headed back for the kids nap. Ayaan and Ariana have been to over 50 playgrounds during this trip and we took them to another before dinner. It was one of the densest playgrounds we’d been to with a train in addition to the usual and the kids loved it. It was dada’s 73rd birthday and we celebrated with dinner at Buddha Bar. The kids enjoyed singing “happy birthday to Dada”, blowing out the candles and eating up the cake.

In the morning we drove 2.5 hours to Dublin and arrived at our apartment in the heart of Dublin near O’Connell St. Gaurav returned the car to the airport after 1600km of driving, while I picked up groceries and lunch. We spent the afternoon strolling through the historic streets of Dublin – Trinity college, Dublin Castle and St Patrick’s Cathedral. Ayaan wanted sweet corn chicken soup again so we found a nearby Chinese restaurant called M&L which worked out great, and also gave us the opportunity to walk down the touristy city center. After putting Ariana to sleep, Gaurav and I sneaked out to check out the night scene in Dublin. We stumbled upon the Quays bar with a live band that played many of our favorite Karaoke songs! We also visited the famous Temple Bar which is a huge indoor-outdoor pub with Irish local music. The Jameson Black Barrel became our go to drink for the night. Overall we really enjoyed Dublin’s vibe with its historic streets, canals and live music everywhere.

On the last day of our European adventure, we woke up to a sunny Dublin. We took the tram to St Stephens Green, a lovely local park with beautiful flowers, ponds and a playground, and neighborhood. The kids and parents enjoyed the short tram ride. We spent the morning strolling through the park with our coffee, and ate lunch at the mall next door. To celebrate the end of our 2.5 month journey through Europe, Gaurav and I had a special meal at Taste of Rustic, a new age Japanese restaurant in Dublin. After enjoying some Nigiri, we visited the Church bar, a unique experience since neither of us had previously had a drink at a converted church!

It’s been a wonderful journey and we’re thankful that Ayaan and Ariana did incredible, and the grandparents joined us for some of it. On to Bombay for the next phase of our journey!

Ireland – part 2, the west

The west of Ireland is where it’s at, with its stunning coastline and 5 peninsulas. After exploring the Dingle peninsula the previous day, we got a very early start to explore the famous Ring of Kerry drive. The weather wasn’t great in the morning and unfortunately our boat tour around Skellig Michael got cancelled – but we were sort of glad since the ocean was rough and the kids wouldn’t sit still for 2.5 hours. We anyway drove to Portmagee, our first stop on the ring. It’s a small fishing village with the typically colored houses and a breathtaking view point overlooking Skellig Michael and the boats departing to it. Our next stop was just 1.5km away at the Kerry’s Cliffs. The signs are right to call this the most magnificent cliffs of Kerry! We continued down the beautiful Skellig ring drive and were often reminded of the 17 mile drive in Monterey. We stopped for lunch at a pub in Waterville and it was once again a warm experience. We continued driving around the loop making small stops along the way at some sights, and taking a break for coffee and Irish apple cake at Kenmare – another cute town with colorful houses. Ariana and I explored the church here and we took the kids to the playground where they made new friends. Our last section of the ring was through the Molls gap pass and the Killarney national park. We stopped to see the Ladies view and the waterfall along the way, before stopping in the town of Killarney. All of us loved walking around the slightly larger town of Killarney and we ate some Asian street food for dinner.

We started our fifth day in Ireland driving to our next stop in Corrofin, near the Cliffs of Moher. On the way we passed Adare, a small town with thatched roof houses, a castle and a Methodist church. We stopped at Limerick for lunch where we had some delicious Italian food. Before checking in at our next B&B, we visited The Burren National Park, with its limestone rocks and large formation. Ayaan, Anjali and I walked on the 40 min nature loop and we were so proud of Ayaan since he walked the entire loop himself. Our B&B (Burkedale) was lovely as it was a large top floor of a house with meadow views. Joanne our host was very warm and welcoming – as we expected in Ireland at this point. She also gave the kids toys to play with including train tracks and the cars to sit on. The kids loved the house as it had a cat and dog as well. In the evening, we visited the quaint town of Ennis and ate at a recommended pub which was fantastic as well. We tried the Irish coffee which then became a regular for us.

We slept in late in our comfortable B&B and woke up to a good breakfast – having a fulfilling breakfast is one of the best perks of this trip so far! We drove 40 minutes to the famous Cliffs of Moher. We were early enough to beat the rush as we took in the beauty of the magnificent cliffs. As we strolled along the cliff side path it became clear what this place special with its humongous cliffs, green meadows and clear waters. We spent a few hours here and then drove to the nearby Doolin for lunch at a locally recommended pub. We relaxed in the B&B as the kids played with their toys, and later visited the town of Ennis again for dinner.

Slovenia

A quick 3 hour drive in the morning from Venice brought us to Lake Bled in Slovenia, a new country for all of us! We were disappointed to learn that the weather here too was sweltering and unfortunately our room didn’t have air conditioning. Fortunately it got fairly pleasant at night and we had a balcony to enjoy after the kids slept. The lake is stunning and very hard to capture in pictures with its bright turquoise, warm, crystal clear waters filled with row boats and a tear drop island. We particularly liked that it felt like a really small town. The first evening we walked around the lake, sat by the shore and dipped our toes in the lake, and ate some Chinese food nearby since it’s the kids’ favorite. Anjali and I finally got to spend some time in the balcony after the kids slept and sip on our Antinori chianti.

The next morning we ate some yummy breakfast overlooking the lake and visited the bled castle with its breathtaking view of the lake and the island. The kids did great as they climbed up themselves and appreciated the view (Ariana said “so pretty” and Ayaan said “we should get a house like this”). We then took the row boat to the island. The ride was beautiful but the island church and tower were disappointing. After our boat ride, we ate a nice lunch lakeside at the Hotel Jezero while the kids were busy playing with the baby stroller. Ayaan has become quite European – before drinking water he always asks if it’s sparkling now. The kids had a late nap after which we decided to go visit the Castle beach for a dip in the lake and some fun for the kids with a sand pit. It’s a must do in Lake bled as the water is warm and it’s a great way to experience the lake with family.

On our last day in Bled, we woke up early and made our way to Vintgar Gorge – a beautiful stroll along a crystal clear river with waterfalls among narrow rock cliffs. It reminded us a bit of Plitvice in Croatia, but not as emphatic. The kids did fantastic again as they walked about 80% of the way appreciating the beauty and saying hi to all the doggies on the way. I’m glad we got there early since we missed the crowds and the sun. We were all a bit tired after the hike, so we drove to Lake Bohinj about 45 mins away for lunch. Beautiful but not really worth a visit after Lake Bled. Our final evening in Bled was spent strolling along the lake and capping the night off with some local Bled cream cake and a glass of muscat. Slovenia has been relaxing although hot, and we’re off to Austria tomorrow!

Switzerland

We spent the next 4 nights driving through Switzerland (new country for Ayaan and Ariana and our 4th of the journey). We drove to Lausanne first, ate some Chinese food since Ayaan loves sweet corn soup and chicken with rice, and visited the church overlooking the city. We weren’t really looking to be in such a big city in Switzerland so we drove through the picturesque lakeside Ouchy to our remote bed and breakfast called Ferme de La Praz. It was set in the countryside overlooking sprawling farm land, cows with bells and the lake – exactly what we were looking for. We relaxed in the lawn, played on the trampoline and the kids enjoyed playing with trains in their game room. We ate some fondue at a local restaurant that was outdoors and had chickens nearby that kept the kids entertained.

The next day we ate some yummy breakfast at the BnB and drove to the nearby Lac de Joux. We walked around the beautiful lake and stopped by at the one of the prettiest playgrounds lakeside. Instead of eating at one of the touristy spots by the lake, we decided to get some Doner kebab in a nearby town. The kids napped that afternoon and Anjali and I finally got some time to spend with each other in the hot tub with some wine we had brought from Bourdeax. That evening was uneventful as we played in the game room and ate dinner in the garden of the BnB getting ready for the next couple of days that were hectic. However no day is complete without Ayaan and sometimes Ariana playing with the car and occasionally driving it with daddy.

The next morning we drove for 2 hours to Zermatt. We loved the mountain town of Zermatt that you can only reach by train. Our host at Artist apartment & hotel Garni was extremely friendly and picked up our bags from the station, while we took the Gornergrat railway up the mountain to get a clear view of Matterhorn from 10,000 feet. The kids loved the train ride with its huge windows and scenic views including waterfalls and glaciers. We spent a couple of hours gazing at the Matterhorn and other peaks and the kids were thrilled to feast on some ice cream! We picked up some wine on the train ride down as the kids napped. The town of Zermatt is quite romantic with live music, outdoor patios and great food. We took advantage of this before retreating to the hotel, putting the kids to sleep and enjoying the view of the Matterhorn from our balcony before we slept.

On our last day in Switzerland, we bid farewell to our host Richard, got some breakfast in town and took the train to the car that was parked in the garage. The drive to Lauterbrunnen was not only beautiful but also interesting as we all enjoyed taking the train while we sat in the car (similar to a ferry) for 17km through many tunnels. Lauterbrunnen is a few miles north of the tourist chaos of Interlaken and is stunningly situated with a waterfall in the town overlooking the snow mountains. We stopped on our way in the tiny town of Isenfluh where we got a clear, spectacular view of Jungfrau.

In the afternoon we visited the Trummelbach falls, that are extremely unique as the gushing falls (that come from Jungfrau as well as all the nearby mountains and glaciers) flow through the caves and provide gorgeous views of Lauterbrunnen. It was a spectacular sight to see and feel the force of these falls illuminated in the vast caves. Kids under 4 were not allowed so Anjali and I had to take turns while Ayaan napped and Ariana was in a playful mood. We stayed at the Chalet Rosa, which was quite average although well located right by the famous Stabbach Falls, and ate some Raclette and Rosti nearby. The kids of course enjoyed their chicken nuggets.

Overall Switzerland was extremely beautiful but we were surprised to find many mosquitoes and an overall lower tolerance to young kids. After 4 nights we were ready to head to our favorite – Italy!